Contrary to popular belief, President Obama’s victory in 2012 was not a result of a shifting demographic trend in the United States. Accordingly, it resulted from the Democrat’s aptitude for effectively organizing and mobilizing increased voter turnout among populations which are favorable to their cause. Additionally, this fact combined with Republican campaigning lethargy and their failure to connect their candidate with the appropriate voters, let a golden opportunity for victory slip through their fingers.
Let’s explore some data which highlights this presumption. Below is a graph which illustrates the citizen voting-age population of the United States by race and their participation levels in national elections from 2000-12.
Source: Census Bureau, Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2000-12.
As you can see for every election up to and including the 2006 congressional; voter turnout among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics perform at reasonably steady levels. For the most part Whites have the highest turnout rates as a percentage of citizen voting-age population (CVAP) with Blacks second and Hispanics third. However, in the 2008 general election, Black CVAP jumped to an all-time high—64.7%–almost matching White turnout. Meanwhile, Hispanic/Latino involvement, while ticking up slightly to 49.9%, remained generally consistent with historical trends.
In the 2012 general, however, the CVAP among racial demographics took a different turn. White constituencies had their lowest turnout for a presidential contest, dropping an average of 6.6 points from previous years. Furthermore and for the first time, the Black community actually surpassed White voter turnout levels by almost four points. Additionally, Hispanic/Latino showing jumped up almost six points from the preceding year.
This evidence does not suggest a demographic shift in the sense that minority voters have reached a point in which singularly or in combination they will overtake the white voter majority anytime soon. What it does show however, is that if White voter turnout is depressed, as it was in 2012, the Democrats can effectively energize minority constituencies, a very dependable liberal voting bloc, to close the gap and eventually control election outcomes.
Nevertheless, while these events are significant, they do not adequately answer the question why the GOP lost a very winnable election?
How They Broke-
According to exit polling data here is how each demographic broke for the candidates.
Sources: David Leip’s Atlas of US Presidential Elections, 2012 Presidential General Election Results. AP, 2012 election exit poll shows voter demographics.
Interestingly even if turnout among all the racial demographics remained the same but there were emollient shifts in their voting patterns, the results of the 2012 election cycle would have been rather different.
Realistically though, you could play with these percentages in a countless number of ways in order to demonstrate how Romney could have won the election, but the bottom line is that Obama won and no amount of number shifting will alter that fact. The point is just to illustrate how close the GOP was to an actual victory despite the narrative permeating the minds of some “pundits” that we now live in “Liberal America.” What we live in is a world in which Democrats adapted their campaign and micro-targeting techniques and are willing to do the hard-work it takes to secure electoral victories. The GOP on the other hand gives the impression that they feel entitled to victory without having to perform any of the difficult legwork and procedural optimization required in a 21st century political world.
There are no easy answers to the GOP dilemma but there are a few things to keep in mind. This election cycle was a testament to the lack of GOP outreach to demographics that presently do not vote Republican. Even if the most of modest attempts were made to connect with these voters, it could have made a difference in closing such a minute gap.
The point is that most of the voter’s impressions of the Right are initiated by Democrats and their surrogates, there seems to be very little messaging or outreach done by GOP operatives in these areas. Obviously when your rival dictates the terms of your image, it’s pretty much a guarantee that how they brand you will be anything less than favorable. Republicans do not have to capture all of these voters; in fact they don’t even have to capture a significant portion. But, they do need to start performing reasonably better with demographics other than Whites.
It is imperative that the GOP start hitting the Democrats in their own historical enclaves, urban America. Thankfully it seems that some conservatives like Paul Ryan are actually recognizing the importance of this fact.
Finally, failure is usually comprehensive; there are other features of the campaign which contributed to Romney’s loss. Gaffes, inconsistency, connection with the constituency, authenticity, etc. are all factors that need to be considered also. If the GOP wants to do some soul searching then by all means fine, but it also better perform a serious mental evaluation on itself as well. Because if they continue with the same old tired campaign approaches then the Left’s predictions of impending GOP implosion will turn from a prognostication into a self-fulfilling one.
(Please Note: The CVAP data from 2000-04 appearing in Fig-1 had to be re-calculated due to the fact that prior to the Census Bureau measured voter participation by the total population which included non-citizens. After 2006 however, voter participation was measured by the total citizen population and data preceding this was adjusted accordingly based on additional information provided by the Census Bureau.)